The Round House by Louise Erdrich

One of the most revered novelists of our time—a brilliant chronicler of Native-American life—Louise Erdrich returns to the territory of her bestselling, Pulitzer Prize finalist The Plague of Doves with The Round House, transporting readers to the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. It is an exquisitely told story of a boy on the cusp of manhood who seeks justice and understanding in the wake of a terrible crime that upends and forever transforms his family. Riveting and suspenseful, arguably the most accessible novel to date from the creator of Love Medicine, The Beet Queen, and The Bingo Palace, Erdrich’s The Round House is a page-turning masterpiece of literary fiction—at once a powerful coming-of-age story, a mystery, and a tender, moving novel of family, history, and culture.

The Round House was the first Louis Erdrich novel I have read and I’m already looking forward to reading more. In this novel, Erdrich examines the Ojibwe's modern-day culture, the discrimination they face, and the conflicts and complications of their justice system as a result of jurisdiction. Specifically, if a crime is committed against an Ojibwe member on non-Native American soil, the crime cannot be tried in the Ojibwe legal system. When I first heard about this novel I pegged it for a powerful book that could expose me to a way of living with which I was not very familiar and Erdrich delivered. This is a novel that will pull at your heart strings and make you reconsider the rights and tangle of laws surrounding Native Americans.                                                                                                   
"We want the right to prosecute criminals of all races on all lands within our original boundaries... What i am doing now is for the future, though it may seem small, or trivial, or boring, to you."
First and foremost, The Round House is a coming-of-age story narrated by thirteen-year-old Joe Bazil, who is young enough to not yet be a man but too old to be considered just a kid. We as readers piece together and understand details of the crime and his family’s unfolding just as he does. There is something to be said about an innocent narrator who doesn’t deserve the reality with which he is faced and the amount of sympathy we as readers feel. 

The title of the book itself refers to a sacred meeting place, where the Ojibwe gather to worship and hold significant gatherings. In this novel, the Round House is also the scene of a heinous crime. (Not a spoiler – this is revealed in the first 100 pages.) The fact that sacred space saw such a horrible crime highlights the underlying Ojibwe traditions that were violated as a result of this crime, in addition to the Bazil family itself.

Among other things, I enjoyed that Erdich weaves details of the traditions and stories of Ojibwe culture into the narrative. In the novel ghost expose themselves and wendigos seek to possess humans. Erdich also emphasizes the tremendous support extended families provide for one another in this culture. All in all, this is a story about injustices and how a family pulls together in the wake of tragedy. It’s a story of redemption and speaks to the prejudice many Native American women face across our nation. If you do read this novel, and I recommend that you do, be sure to read the afterward; it details sobering statistics that I think would be considered spoilers if I included them here.

Publisher: Harper, 2012


  1. Great review! This sounds like something I need to check out.

  2. I was reading another site and found a little piece on this novel and it sounded pretty powerful. The Native American culture isn't something that I've found in many novels I choose which means I probably need to make more of an effort. I remember reading articles about the abuses of Native American women, in some of my anthropology courses, in reservations that are plagued with alcoholism, and have never erased the memory of that one story in The Vagina Monologues (have you seen it?). However, I don't know if I've ever actually read anything on their roles/prejudice these face across the US though. Sounds like a good novel. Thanks, Brenna!

  3. I skimmed your review as I can't wait to read this one as well. Love this author's writing.

  4. I'm adding this to my list. It sounds like a terrific book. Thanks for the great review.

  5. I definitely need to read this one. I live in Wisconsin, among a large Ojibwe population and I'm always eager to learn more about their culture.

    For anyone interested, I recently read Rez Life by David Treuer. It was fantastic and I learned a LOT. http://www.davidtreuer.com/rezlife.html

  6. This sounds like a really great read. I took a course in Native Studies in University which I found extremely interesting and generally enjoy novels that have a Native American theme. One of my favorites is Three Day Road by Canadian author Joseph Boyden.
    Thanks for the great review - I'll be adding this to my tbr pile.

  7. She really had a feel for her adolescent characters, and the mother's trauma. A well told story on a native American reservation.

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